Standing awkwardly with his hand resting on his rapier, Bartholomew stared at his feet for a moment. Countess Reyna was steps away pacing back and forth behind a large mahogany desk. Papers were scattered across the desk with a fountain pen broken and ink spattered across the desk. A small phone in the shape of a fish was off the hook, the receiver hanging from the cord off the desk.
“You know Bart, I've been having a hell of a day. First you appear claiming to be investigating our export logs. Which in and of itself is incredibly stupid because you're accusing us of shipping catnip to Hawks and Falcons. Do I need to explain why that's stupid?”
Bartholomew looked up and met her frustrated gaze as she paced. Of course now it all seemed a bit... silly. Why did Ricky send me here if not for a genuine investigation?
“I assure you I understand how ludicrous it all sounds. However I am under orders. Whether you choose work with me to this end is a different issue entirely.”
Fluffing her black and brown fur, her tail flicked back and forth erratically. Patting herself in the face a couple times she took a deep breath and calmed herself. Grabbing the phone cord, she pulled it up and pressed the receiver down onto the phone. Picking it back up, she pulled the circle on it six times and waited.
“Lydia, fetch me my fencing gear. Bring an extra set for Sir Bart please. Thank you dear.”
Bartholomew cocked an eyebrow and laughed inside his head. Countess Reyna no doubt could take care of herself in combat. Whether she could keep up with Bartholomew is another story entirely.
“You wish to spar with me m'lady?”
Slamming her paw on the desk, she displaced a dozen papers in the process.
“You bet your ass I do. It's nothing personal. It's just not every day I have an opportunity to spar with someone properly skilled. Judging by the craftsmanship of your sword there, you must have some level of skill. Am I wrong?”
“Not at all. There is a reason I was sent here m'lady. It should prove for an interesting match.”
Cocking her head back and smiling, she eyed Bartholomew's sword.
“Care to make a wager to make it more interesting?”
That didn't sit right with Bartholomew. The way she was looking at his weapon made him believe she wanted it. Bartholomew wasn't giving it up.
“I am one to partake in a gentleman's bet from time to time, but my blade is not on the table. Perhaps there is something else worth your while I could wager?”
Pursing her lips and flicking her whiskers, Reyna thought for a moment. The sun shone through the window with the view of the catnip fields. Rows and rows of green and purple, cats and dogs sifting carefully to prune each plant.
“If I win, you leave and tell your superiors they get nothing from me.”
Wager the success of his mission? Bartholomew wasn't entirely comfortable with that. Obviously if he were to make this wager he needs something equal in turn.
“Very well. If I win, you make fresh copies of all shipping records within the last two years and send your own courier to Ravenhome.”
A sly smirk pasted to her face.
“Done. I hope you know what you're getting into Sir Bart.”
Smiling lightly he looked her in the eyes.
“Also, stop calling me Bart.”
Reyna let out a guffaw and a chuckle. Pointing her paw at him she looked past him as the door opened.
“If you win, I'll stop calling you Bart. Deal.”
Rubbing his chin he debated arguing the details. He would much rather prefer she didn't call him Bart regardless of the outcome of the match. Something told him it wasn't worth the time. Tipping his hat to her, he turned around and walked out the mahogany door.
Adjusting his padded outfit, Bartholomew felt like it was a size too small. Though tight, he could still move with relative ease. Pulling the sparring mask over his face, he prepared himself for a more controlled fight. He had gotten so used to fighting with the real thing. Fighting by rules will be much more difficult.
Pacing a few steps around the marble floor, he tried to get used to moving fully in the sparring suit.
“You look uncomfortable Sir Bart. Having second thoughts?”
He let out an audible laugh, though stopped it as soon as it came. He didn't wish to disrespect his host.
“No second thoughts m'lady. Simply being reminded of how different sparring is from real fighting with a sword. I assure you I aim to give you a match worth remembering.”
Pulling her mask down over her face, she signaled to a calico who tossed her a sparring sword. Bartholomew watched as another calico brought him his own sparring sword. Feeling the weight in his hands, Bartholomew wheeled his arm around once. It felt lighter than he was used to. That was an advantage.
She bounced on her feet lightly and warmed up her own arm. Bartholomew took a deep breath and readied himself for the ready. They both walked slowly towards each other until they were within steps of each other. Extending their arms, they crossed sparring swords and waited for the signal. Focusing everything he had, he watched her face intently.
A calico shouted and spurred a fury Bartholomew had never seen before. Within a moment she had pulled herself back to lunge. Thankfully Bartholomew had fought enough to be able to read it before it happened. Even with knowing it was coming, he nearly lost a point right off the bat. Swiping his own sword left and right, he parried her every move. She continued to grunt and thrust, lunge and swipe. For a moment, he thought she had caught an advantage in putting him on the defensive.
Her stamina betrayed her as she began to slow and become frenzied. Swipes turned into lunges. Calicos were talking to each other and placing their own bets on who would win. Loud cracks of steel echoed through the gymnasium. Grunts turned into shouting. Clearly she was getting frustrated. That was all he needed. A lunge turned sluggish, and he seized his opportunity.
Swiping her sword away, he lunged in turn and paced the bead tip of his sword directly in her sternum.
She stood up and stared into space a moment. The Calico's whispers turned to silence. Pulling her mask up, she had a grin from ear to ear.
“You Sir Bartholomew, have won yourself a duel. Not one of these sad saps have ever beaten me in a duel. You managed to beat me without even breaking a sweat. I can see when I am out matched.”
Pulling his mask up, Bartholomew smiled at her.
“Well, my dear, more often than not when I fight a single strike could mean the end of me. 'Tis a skill honed out of necessity.”
Throwing the sword down, she snapped at one of the Calicos in the corner of the gym.
“Go get the word to records, we're going to need double copies of all outgoing shipments for the last two years. Oh, and tell Darrel he is definitely getting extra paid time off for the extra work load. Have him come to me directly with any issues. We'll procure a courier when copies are complete.”
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